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Textbooks Still Misrepresent the Origin of Life 

Editor’s note: The profoundest mystery and thus the deepest inspiration is life itself. Discovery Institute Press has just published a greatly expanded edition of the 1984 classic of intelligent design science literature, The Mystery of Life’s Origin. Below is an excerpt adapted from a brand new chapter. Dr. Wells, the author of the chapter, is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Science & Culture. He holds PhDs in Molecular and Cell Biology (U.C. Berkeley) and Religious Studies (Yale University).

The Miller-Urey experiment may well be called the poster child for origin-of-life research. Most modern biology students have seen some version of the drawing below, which represents an experimental apparatus used in 1952 by University of Chicago graduate student Stanley L. Miller. Because Miller performed his experiment under the supervision of Nobel laureate Harold C. Urey, and the results were published in 1953, it became known as the “1953 Miller-Urey experiment.”

In 2000, I published a book titled Icons of Evolution: Why Much of What we Teach About Evolution is Wrong. I described and analyzed ten images (“icons of evolution”) commonly used in biology textbooks to teach high school and college students about evolutionary theory. I showed that all ten icons misrepresent the evidence — and that some scientists had known this for decades.

After 2000, some textbooks were corrected, but in many cases the corrections were minor and the books continued to perpetuate the misrepresentations. This prompted me to publish another book in 2017, titled Zombie Science, which included six more icons of evolution that I didn’t have room to include in my 2000 book. All sixteen icons misrepresented the evidence, but many were still being used in 2017. I called this “zombie science,” because although the icons were empirically dead they continued to stalk our classrooms and research institutions.

I argued that this was not due simply to laziness or a reluctance to give up an attractive theory. It revealed something much deeper: a dogmatic commitment to materialistic philosophy. Biology courses were being misused to indoctrinate students in materialism, the view that only material objects and the forces among them are real. In this view free will, spirit, intelligent design, and God are mere illusions. 

One of the icons of evolution was the Miller-Urey experiment. 

Read the rest in The Mystery of Life’s Origin: The Continuing Controversy, from Discovery Institute Press.

Photo credit: In the Miller-Urey apparatus, a spark from two electrodes simulated lightning, shown above, by Griffinstorm / CC BY-SA.